Her jewel like blue eyes filled with tears, her mouth pursed to stop it trembling and she said “ we have known you ever since we moved here……..” I had just told her conversationally that I was closing the practice and that her children’s care was now going to be transferred elsewhere.
What was left unsaid was that we had known each other ever since C ***as a child had fallen in the bathroom, and seized. He had been rushed to me and I had diagnosed and treated his seizures. He had come of off the medications after a successful period of being seizure free, bringing much joy to his parents and me.
However after a period of being seizure free as a teenager he had indulged in the painful path that America offers to some children with drugs and inebriation with alcohol. The schools had been intolerant to his weaknesses and one day in a moment of pandemonium, he had been taken into youth detention.
We both looked at each other as we remembered the horror of her innocent epileptic child being placed in a detention center and how she had struggled to get him medical help with meager means. I remembered the frantic phone calls, visits, and the degradation she felt of bringing her child to the doctor’s office with a plain clothed guard, but a guard nonetheless, of her not being allowed in the room by the rules of detention……… I remembered her tears hard held but tripping out of her eyes just as they were now.
C stood next to her embarrassed, a strapping 6ft tall handsome young man. All that was water under the bridge, he was stable, studying, working, and driving, wanting to be free of his parents hold. He was in the last stretch of his anticonvulsants and he would soon be off of them as he was doing remarkably well and would be allowed to drive, but this time I would not be there to smooth the transition.
Neither of us broke down but I reassured her that he would be in good hands that the people who were inheriting my patients were good people.
As we walked out of the room, she looked at the room with its lavender leather exam table, the paintings of Thomas Kincaid promising light and hope and a secret garden all around her. The two kitties peeking from the grass and she waved her hand around the room and said ……. “I will miss coming here”.
We walked to the checkout counter and she said something and turned to give me a hug. It was the same compassionate hug that I had received from the parents of my patients when my son had died. It was quiet, respectful, filled with awe, loss, love, deep abiding affection mixed with genuine feelings of irrevocable parting and comfort.
All these intertwined in one final embrace of doctor and parent, who had walked the precarious path to protect the child who may or not make it in a world that was unforgiving of children who fell behind in their class, society or church.
I turned to shake hands with him and he embraced me with reverent gentleness, a quality that he always had despite all the tribulations and attempts on his part of embracing the darkness with suicide attempts. That too had passed. “ I will miss you……” he said.
No one had said parting with my patients and parents was going to be like dying. I was steeped in grief all over again. I had no tears when I went up to my beautiful serene office to collect myself before I went in to see my next patient.
As I stood there, I felt physically sick, as if someone had punched me in the solar plexus. Loss, loss, loss reverberated from the walls and there was no one to comfort me, no one to say, “ You will be whole again one day” no one gave me the platitudes that “other patients will replace this one………” I could not think of one person whom I could call and who would give me a shoulder and say” I know how you feel; I too have been through that……….. No one!”
I stood in my office feeling nauseous and wanting the feeling to stop. No tears came till much later. I had bumped against my desk chair and as I moved away I saw in my minds eye a flashback of my son and daughter hunched under it putting in the last screws to complete the assembly of my brand new office chair,
Seventeen years had passed, seventeen precious years where the office had been my sanctuary in times of distress where I came to find peace when the flames were lit elsewhere. The office provided peace and quiet in a world gone crazy.
Seventeen years of seeing children who came in broken, and who walked away healthy and good citizens. Seventeen years of parents, who listened attentively, most of the time followed instructions and came back smiling and incredulously happy because things had worked for their child.
Seventeen years where in addition to medical advice I gave nutritional, child rearing and child protection advice on how to avoid the predators of this world. To my surprise the parents and children listened, paid heed and benefited.
Unlike my experience with the people in my community and my family who did not take the word of a woman seriously even though she was a qualified experienced physician and mother. When I had complained about this to a colleague of how the people in my community and my own family did not heed my advice, she had laughed and said, ”Well don’t give free advice, charge them and then they will pay heed”
I looked around at my quiet peaceful office where from the shelf the books of my mentors and teachers peaked out. Each autographed lovingly wishing me the best in my future professionally. Their wishes had come true. In the professional years of my academic and practice the best opportunities had come to me, laden with love, respect and fame. I send thanks and prayers to my mentors.
My patients, and the parents of my patients had respected me from the heart, even where my community and family had lacked. After nine eleven one of my patients Dads from the army said to me “Doc you just call me if anyone bothers you and I will take care of them”. I had smiled, I felt I was invincible. I drove through rural Georgia to do a clinic in the days after 911. It had raised qualms in many of my colleagues as I was driving through the rural south to run a clinic in another town. It had brought warnings from many of my colleagues to give up the clinic.
Allah protected me through my professional journey facilitating me at each turn to take care of children who had fallen through the cracks through poverty and or ignorance of the medical profession. Taking care of those whose seizures had either been ignored through medical ignorance or parental strife. Allah al Shafi ( The healer) had allowed me to identify their problem, treat it and send them back in life as a child with a normal future ahead.
On the death of my son, my staff had understood the depth of my grief and brought correspondence and items for signature to my home and even accompanied me to the grave of my son as I was in a state of paralysis from my grief. No amount of salary that they were paid could recompense them for their compassion in my days of darkness, I am forever ever grateful to them.
My technical colleagues had looked at me with deep genuine compassion and year after year had taken pains to create and give me Christmas gifts with memories of my son engraved on them, or other gifts for solace.
I was standing in my office wondering how I could withstand this hit to the solar plexus. I had not even told some of my technical staff yet as I had not seen them. I did not know that it was going to be so difficult and soul searing.
My first patient interaction had left me spent, physically sick and filled with a desire to run away, to roll back the carpet of time and to erase my decision to start anew elsewhere.
Seventeen years of love, kindness, affection, genuine respect and compassion………I thought I was giving it, little did I know that actually I was receiving it.
The loving looks of the parents filled with gratitude for their child who was now without what had seemed endless head pain or without seizures were a balm for my heart, how much I had no idea till now.
One goodbye had been so heart breaking, How was I going to survive the 60 days of saying goodbyes and the dismantling of my sanctuary brick by brick…….
*** All names, identity and possible recognition markers have been changed to protect the identity of the people in this story.